Intentional Christians

It’s hot…really hot…and humid. The six o’clock weather reporter will tell us the heat index was 105 degrees that afternoon. I sit in my air conditioned car at the intersection, sitting in judgment of a panhandler. I question his sincerity – his honesty. Is he really hungry – is he really homeless? And then up ahead a car window opens and a lady’s hand is extended with a large cold drink from some fast food place.

This was no accidental show of charity or compassion; this was intentional. The lady had purposefully, willfully gone to Wendy’s or McDonald’s – someplace – and purchased this cold drink. I don’t know if the lady was a Christian, but she certainly exhibited the Christian attitude of love – not judging the man’s heart as I was, but feeding the Lord’s sheep.

I was immediately reminded of the passage in Matthew 25 (Matt. 25:41-45), where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats and sadly I had to count myself among the goats on that day.

Judy and I have been attending a Nazarene Church in Palm City for some months now and several of the recent sermons have been on Intentional Christian Living. Much of the teaching has included Bible study, prayer, and Christian fellowship, but what has struck me most is the word INTENTIONAL.

Intentionality is the flip side of accidentally. We choose a lifestyle of love on purpose. We join a Bible study group knowingly, purposefully – not accidentally. We choose not to watch worldly and unholy TV programs and internet sites intentionally – deliberately – by design. We choose to forgive when worldly persuasions would have us hold onto the hurts and sorrows inflicted on us and our forgiveness is by design – intentional. We determine to follow Christ consciously – willfully – premeditatedly. It’s no accident.

Having stated all this we acknowledge the hand of the Holy Spirit in our choices. He is our guide to righteousness and also the source of conviction when we stray or stumble – yet we remain responsible for the choices we make and the consequences thereof.

Being an intentional Christian means you have considered all options in a given circumstance or situation and decided to act or respond as you believe Jesus would. That decision can sometimes be a bit daunting and uncomfortable; even challenging and costly.

It means you have established practices to deny the temptations of some addiction. It means you have purposefully harvested words from Scripture to employ when Satan comes calling. It means you pray for someone who you really don’t want to succeed or to heal, and to forgive when your sinful nature says, “retaliate”. It means you get up out of the easy chair and go and serve in your church or community, even when that serving is painful – either physically or financially or emotionally.

God will often call us to most uncomfortable and challenging ministries; ministries that we are sure are beyond our abilities, detrimental to our lifestyle, and contrary to our plans and purposes. Being an intentional Christian means we say “Yes Lord, send me.”

There are no 'accidental' Christians. Though we cannot take credit for our walk with Christ we do have a hand in how we walk by the choices we make in our daily life. Simply going to church on Sunday no more makes you a Christian than sitting in an airplane makes you a pilot. James taught us "…be doers of the word, and not hearers only". (James 1:22 NKJV)

There is intentional, purposeful, deliberate work to be done on a daily basis if we are to be all God has designed and called us to be and do. Our salvation did not come complete with all the tools and attitudes of righteousness necessary for Kingdom work.

There is faith to be increased; love, joy, and peace to be spread, the Holy Word to be learned and shared, charity, kindness and compassion to give, and prayers to offer – Everyday, Everywhere, and with Everyone.

When Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the temple He responded to their queries, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  (Luke 2:49 NKJV)

I pray we are all about our Father's business!!

Be blessed.

Here I Am; Send Me

"Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Such were the words of Isaiah in answer to God's call, yet we must anticipate the trepidation with which he responds, for he has just recognized his own unrighteousness in view of that of the Lord God.

Likewise as Joshua is given charge of leading the Israelites into the promised land upon Moses' death, he too must have accepted this role with many misgivings and much foreboding. The Scriptures tell us that Joshua was encouraged by both men and God regarding his responsibility. Joshua is told to be strong and courageous by Moses as he passes to reins of leadership (Deut. 31:7), and then the same phrase is repeated by the Lord FOUR times (Deut. 31:23; Joshua 1:6,7 and 9) and finally again by the people he would lead (Jsh. 1:18).

Answering the Lord's call is never a whimsical decision. I recall most vividly being called to lead a men's leadership/discipleship class some years ago, and how unworthy I thought myself to that responsibility. I prayed for direction, asked friends to pray and it was only after some wise counsel that I answered the call.

The counsel was this. . .yes you may be weak, but in recognizing and acknowledging your weakness, God is strong – and it is only then that He can use you. I came to understand that I would not be the teacher – that work is done by the Holy Spirit. My only contribution was to be His instrument.

I remember upon graduating that first class I was presented with a shirt with the title "Instructor" emblazoned across the chest. I knew better and shared with those in attendance that I had not been the instructor – God had. I had merely been a facilitator. I was neither wise enough nor knowledgable enough to teach God's principles, His morals, and His Holy Word.

In the ensuing years of leading those classes I did improve my 'teaching' skills, but that was no more than we are called to do as we hone the particular skills of our Spiritual gifts. There were even times when I found myself being taught by the students I proposed to lead.

I do believe my first Spiritual Gift is teaching, but let us look again at how we receive these Gifts. In enumerating some of the Gifts in 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Cor. 12:7)

How many times had I read that passage before the lighs came on? Paul is saying that the Gifts are not worked "by" us but "through" us. We are not using the Gift of XXXX – that work is the Holy Spirit working through us. The Gift is the 'manifestation of the Holy Spirit' as He exerts Himself – as He labors in that mode which we term a Spiritual Gift.

Now think on that for a minute or two. . .God, through His indwelling Holy Spirit, is using your God given talents, your experiences, your passions, and your character to glorify Himself. All these things He designed in you at birth, (Psalm 139:13-14), He now puts to use for His glory. There is nothing in this world that thrills me more than to know God is using me for His glory!! 

How many have been called to a ministry, a chore, or a role within the church and refused thinking they were unqualified in some way or another? God did not call the mighty Charleston Heston to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He called a weak-willed, mealy-mouth, fugitive to lead them. What did Moses know about leading a nation of slaves through the desert to an unknown destination? And yet, unqualified – even grossly so – as Moses was, this was God's choice so that He would be glorified.

When we answer God's call to ministry – it is not for our glory. God is glorified in that the church is served, and that the members see how He can use even the least of us. Perhaps they can then say, "If he [you] can do ______ then I can step up and do something."

I pray you will shrug off your doubts and say "Here I am LORD. Send me!"

Burning Your Candle

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
 Edith Wharton (American Novelist and short-story writer, 1862-1937)

I would rethink that quote to, "As we mirror the light of our Lord, His light is multiplied". In Proverbs we read: "The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord. . ." (Prov. 20:27 NKJV)

In speaking to His disciples Jesus said that we are the 'light of the world', (Matt. 5:14-16), and yet He proclaimed that He is 'the light of the world'. (John 8:12) How do we reconcile the two verses?

I think we must first recognize that Jesus wasn't speaking to His small select group of apostles, but to a crowd of people (see Matt. 7:28). So it wasn't an anointed group He referred to as light of the world but all those in attendance. Secondly we would understand that the entire crowd had to be believers, for to be asked to abide by all He was demanding in His Sermon on the Mount would have been folly and foolishness to an unbeliever – just as it is today.

For our many years of walking in the world we were an unlit candle – complete with wick. But God in His wisdom and grace has now touched our wick with the flame of His light and our candle now burns. Certainly not all candles burn equally bright – Paul teaches us that God has granted us a 'measure of faith', (Romans 12:3 NKJV), and that we must grow that faith, (1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20; Col 1:9-11; 2:6-7). So too some of our candles burn brighter than others.

In summation we may then conclude that as we surrender to our Lord Jesus and are supernaturally filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit, we also supernaturally, become salt and light.

Jesus went on to say that we are not to hide our light – in fact He says our light cannot be hidden – just as you cannot block out the lights of a city on a hill. If we are truly committed Christians our light cannot be hidden – it is as visible as the nose on our face.

Speaking of John the Baptist's light, Jesus noted  that his "was a lamp that burned and gave light. . ." (John 5:35). So let us now address the burning of our light.

Burning is not an option. The ambition to be a shining light is universal, but not everyone is ready to suffer the consequences of being a burning light. I think of Stephen who faced his accusers with God's truth, of Paul who suffered relentless beatings and jailing as he founded churches across Asia and Europe, and of latter day saints like Martin Luther, Madam Guyon, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In the western world we seldom are threatened by having our light shine. But there are readers here among our subscribers in China, India, Liberia and elsewhere that are surely braver than I, who shine their lights in an oh-so-dark world. Would I, could I be so brave? Surely, I confess, such is not near the top of my prayers.

There is a price to pay for the right to give the true light of life. That price is yourself. All of your ambition, all of your resources, all of your intellect, and your passion must be directed to a brighter burning lamp.

But just as there is a price there is also a reward for being that brighter lamp. From my own experiences – my years of teaching and discipling men in the church, counseling those in distress, and authoring these pages – I am rewarded by the knowledge that in my weakness, in my incompetence, and my ignorance, God has chosen to use my meager lamp to bring His Light of the World message of forgiveness and salvation. And that my friends, is no small reward.

May I challenge you to be a brighter light. Our God has touched your wick with His mighty flame. What will you do with that light you now emit? Not all are called to be Paul or Stephen or Billy Graham. Sometimes our light seems so dim as if it struggles to brighten a foggy night. Those lights may serve in a soup kitchen or visit the old and infirm. They may teach a children's Sunday School class or volunteer in any number of roles for their church and their community. Scripture does not reveal that a brighter light is more honored or rewarded by God, only that we burn as brightly as we can, that we might to aspire to emit a 'Moses-glow', and as we burn our candles down to the very wick's end, God's Holy light surely shines all the brighter and He is glorified!

Stepping Out in Faith

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do." (James 1:22-25 emphasis added)

My wife has a little ceramic plaque in our bathroom with the quote, "Ships are safe in port, but that isn't what ships are built for".

There is the story of Daniel Smith who was the first mate on a ship. He ran the everyday operations of the ship with great skill and earnestness. He got along well with his fellow officers and the ship's crew had much respect for him. His orders were always carried out with no dissension or sullenness.  His captain came to him one day with the  great news that the admiral of the fleet was promoting Smith to captain and he was to be master of his own ship.

Soon Smith took over his new command, a beautiful three masted prize. Just as he had done before Smith soon had everything on board 'ship-shape'. The woodworks were freshly varnished and the brass was polished to a brightness not seen aboard the vessel in a very long time. The hull was repainted, and the ship even sported a brand new ensign.

Smith diligently ran the crew through exercises, emergency fire drills, and all the regular operations of a fine sea going ship. This went on for some weeks and finally the Admiral came aboard to see why Smith had not weighed anchor and put to sea. The Admiral looked around and was greatly impressed with both ship and crew. "Very impressive" commented the Admiral. "Now, Captain Smith, when do you plan to set sail?"

Each time I see our little plaque I am reminded of my responsibility to serve God in some way. He has, in His mercy and by His grace, saved me from a sinful life; He has given me talents and spiritual gifts by which He intends me to 'feed His sheep', and He has opened my eyes to His Holy Word that I may understand my role in His kingdom. He has provided all that is needed for His work.

I look at that plaque and I hear my Lord asking me, "When do you plan to set sail?

When are you going to stop planning? When are you going to trust in My plan and abandon yours? When will you set your fears aside and surrender yourself to me? I did not create you to sit and ponder, or meditate on how you will serve Me! Get up – go out – do!!

When the Lord God asked "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?", there was no hesitation on Isaiah's part. He was quick to answer, "Here I am, Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8); and God also responded without hesitation, "Go and tell this people. . ." (vs 9).

There is a short verse concluding the narration of Jesus washing the apostle's feet. He tells them to follow His example and then He says "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:17) Not only are we instructed to serve but there is the promise that we will be blessed when we do.

Jesus wrapped up His Sermon on the Mount with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . .but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man. . ." (Matthew 7:24-27 emphasis added) Both the wise and foolish builder 'hears these words', but it is the ones who 'put them into practice' who find themselves anchored to a rock – The ROCK.

I pray we would all weigh anchor and set sail for Jesus. Let us all be doers of the word and not hearers only.

Be blessed.

Delivering the Good News

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7 NIV)

In Paul's letter to the Romans he zealously declared that salvation is by faith in Christ and that the Mosaic Law upon which the Jews were so desperately dependent for salvation was null and void. He states, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)

Both passages evoke a notion of someone bringing good news – not just good news, but life giving, great news. In Isaiah the messenger proclaims God's promise of redemption, a return of the remnant in Babylon to His holy city, promise of peace and tranquility, and above all the sovereign rule of the Lord God to protect them. How beautiful are the feet of that messenger. Watch now, going forward into verses 8 and 9; we see the watchmen, who have heard the good tidings 'lift up their voices. . .[and] sing for joy'; and in verse 10, the promised 'salvation of our God'. (Is. 52:8-10)

To the  Romans Paul has stated that all are saved by the Calvary event – but all aren't aware of that event – and there is a cry for someone to preach the salvation message. Some messenger must go. And again, how beautiful the feet that bring that message.

There are many obstacles to the messenger's feet. A world view would ridicule the message and vilify the messenger. The evil one will place many a stumbling block in the way of the messenger, enticing him with pleasurable side paths, bright lights, and worldly treasures. Our Lord Jesus taught us from the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:9-12)

But God provides the true bright light for the messenger – a lamp unto his feet and a light for his path – His holy Word – and a true Guide in the person of the Holy Spirit.

We, my friends, are called to be the messenger today. Just as the people of Jerusalem were watching and waiting for the message of God's return with his remnant and just as Paul exhorts us to take the message to those 'have not believed' because 'they have not heard', there are those who are waiting for a message; a message of salvation, of love, and peace, and joy; that they too can join us in rejoicing in God's favor. They are waiting for us. Waiting for you.

I once heard in a sermon that there is someone in your realm of influence that will never hear about Christ unless you tell them. When I first heard that statement I was a little skeptical – thought it a little far fetched. "Really? I am their only source for the word of God?" But upon deeper reflection I thought – "What if?" Do I dare deny such a premise?

And then there was this from an atheistic comedian; "Who do you hate so much that you would keep secret from them your message of salvation?" Do you really hate your next door neighbor that much? Do you really hate your co-workers that much? Obviously the list could go on and on. A favorite worship song says "They will know we are Christians by our love".

On that last night in the Upper Room, Jesus told His apostles, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 emphasis added)

So in conclusion we might declare that the beautiful feet of the  messenger will be recognized by our love for another.

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, "Here I am, Send me!" He said, "Go and tell this people…" (Isaiah 6:8-9a)

"Let it be so. Or in Hebrew, "Amen".